Every once in a while you will need a doctor, a lawyer, or a policeman. But each day, almost thrice a day, you enjoy the benefits of the work that a farmer does.
Yet, there are woefully inadequate capacities in India when it comes to actually learning how to farm. This was the realisation that made Manguirish Pai Raiker (64). a resident of Goa, to start the state’s first community agriculture college in 2013.
A recurring vision
Manguirish started a manufacturing business in the late seventies and continues to run it successfully till date. “Despite being in the manufacturing industry, it was agriculture that always fascinated me,” says Manguirish.
As far back as he can remember he says that trees, plants, and growing food have played a very vital role in his growing up years. He also mentions his father’s passion for growing food.
“Unfortunately, he could not continue being an agriculturist, since it was not something that paid very well,” he says. But he grew up learning about the science of agriculture first hand from his father and wanted to pass on his knowledge.
“In whatever small way I could, I have always been promoting education. One of the first things I did once I started earning was to find deserving students and sponsor their education all through – until they graduated. I would focus on one student at a time and that helped give them the time and resources that they deserved,” he says.
He realised that while what he was doing was definitely helpful to individual students, to create large-scale impact, he needed to formalise it into a scalable process.
He maintained a vision of starting an institution where agriculture was taught in a structured, institutionalised manner, and started working towards it.
“Everyone I mentioned my plan to would smirk and ask why I was trying to lose all the money I had made over the years in trying to start an agriculture college. Friends and family were certain that in my sixties I had lost my marbles,” says Manguirish. Not one to pay heed to any of this chatter, Manguirish decided to move on and work on starting the college.
In building the college Manguirish mentions that he spent all his life savings, he says, “If not for my supportive wife [Varsha], I doubt I would have been able to pull it off.”
Launch Of Ramnath Crisna Pai Raikar College
Named after Manguirish’s grandfather, the college officially came into being in 2013, after a very long and arduous journey. “Despite having been an entrepreneur and having a very good network I found it next to impossible to raise money to build the college. Every door I knocked on was shut to me and that is when I decided to use an ancestral property and my own money to launch the college,” he says.
“I was not going to give up”, says Manguirish, who had seen the rough and tumble of running a business during the ‘License Raj’ era in the late seventies. “Even the process of getting a loan for the business and getting approvals was extremely difficult. The interest rate was steep; as high as 15 per cent. Despite all that, we survived and managed to do well” he says.
All the grit and perseverance that was needed to succeed as an entrepreneur served him well this time around as well.
The college is situated in Savoi Verem, which is about 26 kilometres away from Panaji. “I was clear on what I wanted to do, it also helped a great deal that along the way, I found equally passionate people to join the cause – Pradeep Lotlikar, a graduate from the Konkan Krishi Vidyapeeth in Dapoli was one of them, who joined me rather early on,” says Manguirish
The college boasts of being absolutely state-of-the-art, equipped with an agri-lab, a computer lab, two polyhouses, and a nursery. “While I did have some friends who came forward and financially helped me, being provided government assistance would have made it all so much simpler,” he says.
Can You Eat Money and Drink Oil?
The more we progress and the richer we get, we seem to forget what our basic needs are, says Manguirish. “We need to promote agriculture and encourage students to take it up and study it since we need a thriving agricultural society. There is no doubt in my mind that they play a very important role in our society and to educate them and elevate their living conditions is one way to help them,” he says.
Manguirish went one step ahead and ensured that the students at the college are also equipped with the wherewithal to make and present a business plan. “Just like one draws up a business plan when starting out a business, it is important for agriculturists also to follow suit. Questions like how much money needs to be invested, what would be the return, and what course of action one should take in case the business goes kaput,” are important lessons says Manguirish.
Why Should An Agriculturist Make A Business Plan?
For long now, the agricultural sector has been dependant on the vagaries on monsoon and the various other external parameters. “The need to have a structured course and syllabus is to teach various techniques that have worked the world over. From the drip irrigation system from Israel or the possibility of introducing horticulture alongside as a means to increase revenue,” says Manguirish.
Until recently, a farmer would not necessarily know the details of the soil type. There were no laboratories where checks and tests could be done and one only relied on traditional knowledge. “Even if one could get the soil tested in a lab, no one explained to the agriculturist what that meant and what changes need to be made to ensure that the soil performs better,” says Manguirish.
Manguirish’s intent in setting up the college was to provide a holistic syllabus, which would address all these issues and help agriculturists be better and earn more.
What Does One Learn In This Farm College?
Not wanting to only cater to college students, Manguirish decided to offer the course to students pursuing higher secondary education as well. “I wanted to develop an interest in students from a younger age and hence we accept grades 11 and 12 students also,” he explains. Manguirish got help from the head of the Goa Higher Secondary Education Board and from there the process began.
What’s also interesting is that students who opt to take up this course during their grades 11 and 12 are not charged any tuition fee. “The idea is to get the students keen on studying this subject without putting any financial burden on the parents,” says Manguirish.
Students of grades and 11 and 12 will be studying the following subjects:
- English Communication Skills (ECS)
- General Foundation Course (GFC)
- Gardening & Landscaping
Students can also apply for the Diploma and Advanced Diploma in Agriculture, which is a two-year course. Explaining the process by which students are enrolled, Manguirish says, “The maximum weightage is given to children of farmers, followed by those who own farmland, and then those who exhibit great interest in learning. For us, their marks do not hold very great
“What’s amazing is how we have a very healthy mix of boys and girls studying in our college – some of the girls don’t just work harder in the field but are extremely smart in the way they study,” says Manguirish.
What’s the Scope Once A Student Completes The Course?
Each batch has about thirty students and so far there have been three batches graduating from the college. “We have students who have passed out join the forest department, join the private sector and help with the maintenance of farms and private green spaces, and some of them have even got together and leased farmland to start their practise,” says Manguirish.
What makes Manguirish the happiest is to see some of his students join hands to take up contract farming. “They are able to put to use the knowledge that they gathered while studying with us and are also able to earn a sizeable livelihood in this way.”
Given the thrust on contract farming, there is a lot of scope for these students to do well, says Manguirish.
Students Who Shine
Studying farming and various techniques and practises isn’t for everyone. Manguirish speaks about how the course can be physically taxing and very often one is needed to spend long hours out on the fields when it’s scorching hot. “70 per cent of the course is designed in a way that keeps the students out on the fields, and only 30 per cent of what they learn is from text-books and classrooms. I have seen students with blisters on their palm, sun-burnt, and exhausted, but the passion they have for the subject is what pushes them each day.”
From speaking at Michigan State University to delivering a lecture at Virginia State University, Manguirish constantly stresses how important it is to give farmers and agriculturists the right knowledge and resources to work better.
In conclusion, Manguirish says, “In realising the dream to make India Atma Nirbhar (self-sufficient) equipping our food producers is the first step.”
If you would like to reach out and find out more about this one-of-a-kind college in Goa, click here to access the website or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)